We have used a passport to identify ourselves when we cross borders for decades. And even though we are likely to have analog forms of identification like a passport or driver’s license in the coming decades, “digital identities will play in increasing role in the future,” said Robert Schächter, director of Österreichische Staatsdruckerei (OeSD). His chief innovation officer, Lukas Praml, even goes a step farther: “You will be your ID yourself.” And he does not just mean biometric applications. A fingerprint is not suitable as identification, because you lose it as soon as you pick up a glass.
Collaboration with the Ministry of the Interior
At the OeSD, experts have been concretely considering the future of the ID together with different partners including the Ministry of the Interior in a special OeSD Academy. Initial results were presented at the Alpbacher Technology Forum during the Touch the Future – Security and Identity in the Digital World talk. The final decision on what approach will be used will be made by the Ministry of the Interior. This is also the identification ministry, because it maintains all registers. But will this be the case in the future? “We have been verifying identities using the latest available technologies for over 200 years,” said Schächter. The move to the digital identity is the next logical step. “People believe and trust us.”
A multi-level security model with a certain number of security categories will be needed. People do not need a qualified identity for a customer card at a grocery store. But you need one to buy a house or to provide medical information. There may be other levels in between; the individual will decide in the future what information he or she provides to whom. Praml feels that it should only be required to provide the information that is actually needed to conduct a transaction, and nothing more.
Like with comments on the Internet – people want to say something, but don’t want anyone to know who said it. Or for a survey at school. You have to be able to identify yourself to verify that you are authorized to participate in the survey, but need to be able to remain anonymous. These pseudo identities will be important for whistle blowers, because the only way to ensure that the information is truly genuine is a real identity (in the background).
Smartphones as ID
What will come after the passport? According to Praml, it will be purely biometric after 2015, but there will be intermediate steps along the way. The next step will be ID systems on smartphones, “many identification numbers will be available on the smartphone,” Praml explained. The innovation director at the OeSD does not think that the fingerprint will play a major role in identification systems.
Light beam check
What will come after the smartphone? This depends on the development of technology and on acceptance among the population. Integrated into glasses, an implanted chip, or – Praml’s favorite solution – optogenetics. This is a method by which neurons are genetically modified. When you shine a light on these cells, they change. Praml: “A short beam of infrared light causes a small reflection that allows unique and complete identification.”
The system knows everything
But there are also other possibilities. One is that the system knows us, like in science fiction movies. Cameras and web cams that are installed everywhere could help with this. Praml: “It sounds like total surveillance, but since the system – which I can activate myself – knows where I am because it tracks everyone at all times, I can be identified and do not need to identify myself separately as often.” This system could be linked with a credit card company’s system, which could then show that a person cannot be using his credit card in Timbuktu at the moment.
“We all know that electronics have become the critical infrastructure,” Praml said. “It used to be that you could make an emergency fan belt with pantyhose, and that you had to cut down a telephone pole to wreck the communication system.” In the IT age, the systems can be taken offline more easily. Schächter and Praml are not worried about the fact that the ID system cannot function without the IT system: “If there is a major cyberattack and the IT infrastructure goes offline, IDs are the least of our problems.”